Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Charlotte Symphony Showcases Prodigy Pianist Umi Garrett

Umi after the concert
Most people have had the experience of going to a child's piano recital at some time in their lives.  You sit in the audience hoping that the child you are there to see will successfully get through his or her piece without hitting too many wrong notes and applaud feverishly when they are done.  Saturday night's performance by ten year old Umi Garrett with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra bore no resemblance to this type of piano recital.  In fact, it was one of the most remarkable and enjoyable performances that I've ever seen. 

Maestro Francis Wada was first "introduced" to Umi when he saw her on the Ellen DeGeneres show.  You have to think that a bit of fate was involved since the Maestro doesn't typically spend his days watching Ellen.  Umi impressed him with her poise and her playing (which included playing over her shoulder with her back turned to the piano).  He immediately called her agent to see if she would be available to perform with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.  Happily for us, the answer came back as "Why not????"

Umi selected Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23, K 488 as the piece to play with the Orchestra.  (During the pre-concert interview, she said this is what she is most "confident" playing with an orchestra.  For some reason, hearing a ten year old use the word "confident" made me smile.)  Her performance was nothing short of extraordinary.  Not only does she have incredible technical skills, but she plays with great emotion that is baffling coming from a child her age.  When talking with some people after the performance, they said that they'd discussed it and that the only "logical" conclusion was that she had been reincarnated.   

It was such a pleasure to watch Umi play (from my front row seat I had an up close and personal view of her hands) and to see the rapport that she and Maestro Wada shared.  It is hard to believe that they had never met before the rehearsals this week.  When Umi's turn to play was coming up, the Maestro would turn towards her and give her a smile and a nod.  She would beam back at him as she started to play.  In addition to being fellow musicians, Umi and the Maestro share their Japanese heritage.  This common bond was more apparent the night of the concert than it might ordinarily have been since the concert was held two days after the devastating earthquake and tsunamis that struck Japan.  Umi told the audience that her performance that evening was dedicated to the people of Japan. 

Umi's performance got a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd.   She smiled, hugged Maestro Wada, bowed repeatedly to the audience and the Maestro and eventually made her way off the stage.  She returned for an encore, playing Liszt's Dance of the Gnomes.  I was able to find a video of her playing this piece on YouTube last year (when she was nine years old).  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vMjzbMG3T4    The piece was nothing short of amazing. 

I neglected to mention that Umi won the second Chopin International Competition in Hartford, Connecticut earlier this month.  She was awarded perfect scores by each of the three judges.  Her prize is to perform at Carnegie Hall in April.   I wish I could attend! 

As I look back at this post, I realize that the superlatives I've used might seem a bit over the top, even for me.  Truly, though, it was that great of a performance.  Maestro Wada could not have chosen a better way to end the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's season of classical concerts.  I'm sure that I'm not alone in looking forward to experiencing the music and guest musicians that he will introduce us to in the years to come.

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